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A Strategic Roadmap for the Global Care Economy

August 30, 2023

By Ankita Panda, Jane Sloane, and Britt Robinson

Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic have demonstrated the need for a more equitable and resilient care economy. (Photo: Akihito Yokoyama / Alamy)

The Asia Pacific region is the most unequal in the world when it comes to unpaid care, where women perform four times more unpaid care work than men. Recent crises like the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed the fragility, the inadequacy, and the injustice of this reality and brought a growing recognition of the urgent need for strategic action to create an equitable and resilient care economy.

Last November, The Asia Foundation and its partners convened the Bali Care Economy Dialogue on the eve of the G20 in Indonesia to highlight the issue of care with G20 countries and to propose critical investments and necessary actions. To ground the discussion, the Foundation prepared a white paper, Toward a Resilient Care Ecosystem in Asia and the Pacific. Emerging from the dialogue was a regional roadmap for action on the care economy, co-created by the participants. Since then, The Asia Foundation has convened or participated in national-level dialogues in several countries in Asia and the Pacific to translate regional advocacy into national-level action. Read more about our work here.

After the success of the Bali initiative, the global women’s rights organization Women Deliver invited The Asia Foundation and its partners to organize a pre-conference on the care economy at Women Deliver 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda.* As the sun rose over Kigali on July 16, more than 100 organizations working on the care economy united to translate the regional roadmap into a global roadmap for action.

Geeta Rao Gupta, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, began the day with a powerful speech:

Today’s gathering is a testament to the progress we want to make, on a global level, toward shining the spotlight on an issue that is so essential to our collective well-being and to stable, prosperous societies, and yet too often goes unnoticed, remaining backstage when it requires top billing.

The opening plenary panel at the care economy pre-conference at Women Deliver 2023, in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo: Franck Axel Nyabagabo)

The opening plenary session featured a panel discussion of regional care models. Diana Rodríguez Franco, secretary of women’s affairs of Bogotá, Colombia, described that city’s innovative district care system, which organizes care services into regional centers, or “blocks of care,” to bring care services closer to those who need them, reducing the time burden on care providers and giving them a safe and welcoming center of support. Nineteen of the planned 46 care blocks are already in operation across the city.

Lynette Okengo, executive director of the African Early Childhood Network, highlighted the need to map out the care space to ensure that CSOs are complementing and not duplicating each other’s work. “We need to know who can do what, and where, best,” she said, “and we need to collaborate, when we approach government, to have a stronger voice.”

The event attracted funding commitments, including an announcement by Canada’s minister of international development, Harjit Sajjan, that his government would fund two projects: Time to Care, a CA$5.2 million investment in Kenya to change gender norms, care policies, and legislation; and Scaling Care Innovations in Africa, a CA$25 million investment to scale successful African care models.

The second half of the day included discussions of concrete steps to advance the care economy. Roundtable participants developed recommendations and action items for the global roadmap for action. Roadmap topics include care-related migration, engaging men and boys, care and the climate crisis, digitalization, and promoting the disability-care agenda. Recommendations range from expanding childcare facilities in public spaces and male-dominated workplaces to educating migrant care workers about their rights and where to obtain information and services. Other recommendations include investing in existing, replicable community models and encouraging the use of blended finance—using development funds to attract additional, private capital—to bolster emerging care enterprises

There was also a call for intersectional approaches that unite feminist, eldercare, and disability agendas for comprehensive care policies. Since most care workers are women, investing in women-led climate solutions will also center caregiving in addressing the ramifications of climate change.

The Asia Foundation’s Ankita Pandit addresses the conference. (Photo: Franck Axel Nyabagabo)

Effective care policies and delivery systems must be informed by timely data and research. Care advocates and activists must be included in policymaking forums to contribute their grassroots knowledge to the decision-making process. And new media strategies will bring the stories, contributions, and needs of care workers in the informal economy to the broader public.

There was recognition of the urgent need for action and commitments to address the care emergency dominating many countries and communities, costing lives and livelihoods every day. The draft global roadmap for action that emerged from the Kigali conference is designed to propel commitments and investments to transform the care economy and ensure decent care work and dignity of care for all who need it. It’s time.

*We extend our special thanks to the partner organizations that made this event possible.
Organizing partners: the Center for Global Development, Women Deliver, the WeProsper Coalition at the International Center for Research on Women, the International Labour Organization, and The Asia Foundation.
Cohosting partners: IDRC, Equimundo, Nathan (Cadmus Company), ECDAN, the International Rescue Committee, FEMNET, Pro Mujer, UN Women, the Moving Minds Alliance, Sonke Gender Justice, Men Care, and Hilton.

Britt Robinson is a gender advocate and communications specialist and can be reached at [email protected]. Jane Sloane is senior director, and Ankita Panda is senior program officer, at The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Program. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

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InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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